The day I learned how not to instruct- Bush Pilot Tale


I had just completed my grade three instructors course in Pretoria, after a month of training in Nelspruit during my annual leave from Sefofane, in Maun Botswana.

I got back looking forward to applying my new flying skills and privileges, in a training role for the first time in my career. I did an assistant instructor check ride with a Botswana Civil Aviation Authority designated examiner, which transferred my South African qualification to the Botswana equivalent. Grade III in South Africa = Assistant Flight Instructor in Botswana (I'm not sure if this still applies).

Anyway, I needed to demonstrate the ability to patter a student through every aspect of the flight. Patter is a lovely word, in flying it's like the hands on 'coaching' of a pilot during their training. The problem with my perception of patter was that I thought it meant controlling every moment of this incredible experience for the student. I was prone to talk way too much, I was constantly correcting everything, making issues out of small airmanship blemishes. It was like endless disruption, and no synergy.

I could see my students getting exhausted by my endless, relentless jabber. I was in a mental state of believing I knew everything there was to know about this flying thing. Students used to challenge me correctly on certain aspects, and I'd find a way to justify my final word on it.

Uncomfortable silences were common after altercations where I'd been challenged and then it got personal. I used to sulk when I got blocked... How bad could my state of ego actually get? Well one lady from New Zealand by the name of Dallas Patten put me right in my place, On a weekend of flying I will never forget. Dallas was a seasoned flight instructor in New Zealand and had got a break in Maun to fly a 'Tonki Ma bogo bogo' 'Donkey of the Delta' (nickname for a Cessna 206 in Maun)

She was a great girl, full of life, gorgeous blue eyes... But tough as nails in the mind China ! You could see she wasn't afraid of flying machines, you knew before you got in, that she could 'pole'...('pole' is a slang word for Aviating or manually flying an aircraft) The problem was, I was Felix Gosher, a failed Air Force candidate with a chip on my shoulder and a point to prove, and I thought she was sloppy and needed to be more like the South African type pilot about her attitude, to safety and procedures. I believed my culture of training was superior to hers, and the flights were painful, I had this chauvinistic male 'God of flying' attitude, that I knew it all... I drilled her on her shirt hanging out after climbing off the wing from dipping the tanks, told her she taxied too fast, was upset with her lack of vocals in the cockpit like not declaring her actions in communication with me, I found fault in her handwriting in the tech log, I took control too early when I felt her landings weren't looking good.... I was treating this poor girl with a militaristic drill sergeant type of attention to detail, yet making mistakes of it with my own Aviating shortfalls. I was all over her like a rash.... Sectors were long and painful for us both. I could see the last light of her disappearing while flying, in the midst of my domineering over baring presence. After shut down I'd run through a list of things I wanted her to improve. About thirty seconds into a debrief I could see her switching off.... I was talking to myself.

Dallas never needed to learn how to take off and land in the bush, she was already a thousand hour pilot. I was gunning for her attitude to this job. The final straw came when coming into land at Maun after six or seven sectors out in the delta. She had somehow managed to get my blood flowing, hammer heading every turn onto every final approach on every landing. Hammer Heading is when you bust through the extended centre line of the runway in a descending turn from base leg to final. Why it's dangerous especially when heavily loaded on hot days.... is simple, in a descending turn the lower wing is at a higher angle of attack, and therefore closer to its critical angle where the stall occurs. If you cause a wing-drop of the lower wing in a descending turn, close to the ground, you will die in a smoking hole. Hammer Heading used to make me livid... I used to go crackers.... Even to this day, I hate any turn on to final that busts through the centerline, it makes the flight imperfect in my head. My flight instructor in Nelspruit used to tell me these stories of stalls in the final phases of flight. I was so absolutely sure that Dallas was doing it only to rebel against me in the cockpit. True as I write this, another hammerhead on the final sector. 'Dallas don't you f#@ken bust through that line!!! What the f#@k Dallas!!'

I had broken a major rule in any professional endeavour, I'd sworn in the cockpit, I'd got angry and I'd lost my cool during a critical phase of flight.

Following this flight, I was called in by my Chief Pilot Fred Young, a man with well over 6000 hours, who'd flown Impala lead in fighter jets, Dakotas in a war, BAC111 for Nationwide Airline, and B1900s in Algeria and Afghanistan to mention but a few of the places he'd been on contract. Fred simply said to me, 'I'm taking Dallas off your training roster, she really isn't happy with what she describes as a negative 'Cockpit Gradient'.... I felt absolutely bewildered and embarrassed, how could this little grade three have upset one of his first students to the lengths that I was deemed not suitable to train her? I was shocked by Fred's debrief, but he'd acted swiftly in the interests of safety. I went into deep introspection and felt absolutely terrible about the fact that I’d lost this student. I felt that I was too set in my culture and ego limitations to adapt to her learning process, but then I had a great conversation with a great Kiwi pilot who'd been hired at the same time I'd joined the company, he was in the 2008 Van intake at Sefofane and was a model pilot to anyone who love to fly. Philip Thorne from Waikato home of the Chiefs😊 sat me down at Kasane, during a turnaround and debriefed me on my attitude to instructing in a manner I'd never been humbled enough to absorb. Something along these lines....'Felix you never swear in a cockpit, you never get angry, or you lose your student immediately.... The thing you need to realize is that instructing is a selfless and thankless task. You are a facilitator to another's learning, you are not actually the teacher.... The experience is, Dallas has sent students solo and trained more then there are pilots in Maun, you are not teaching her how to fly, you are there to help her meet the grade but by the safest and most harmonious method. The moment you lose your temper in a cockpit, you've lost your student, the learning stops.... All they remember is that you couldn't hold your head together when it got hot in the kitchen' The chat changed me overnight, I realized I was selfish and ego centred in my manner. I realized I talked too much in the cockpit, and that I was in fact more arrogant than anything, and unapproachable. I asked Dallas to join me for a pizza at the old Buck and Hunter and I did the hardest thing at the time, I apologized to my former student for our high stress training sorties, and I admitted that I was in fact the one who learned something from our flights together, when I was supposed to be teaching her. Nothing hurt me in flying more then knowing another Pilot doesn't like to fly with me, yoh I take it personally.

She accepted my apology, and agreed to fly with me again. On the next flight, I tried something completely different, I didn't say a word.... Not one... I sat and just observed... I just behaved like a ghost, she forgot I was next to her. This harmony entered the realm, I noticed her ability and flow, and her understanding of situations around her. She revealed her supreme talent the moment I shut up and stopped trying to control everything. That afternoon she greased every landing, flew as straight as an arrow, arrived home bang on time with exactly the fuel she'd planned... All I had to do.... Was let the experience do the teaching.

#FlightInstructing #BushPilot #AviationTraining

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